I remember the very first time I turned on my PSP on release day. When I saw the impressively bright, vivid screen I thought to myself - “Holy crap, Gran Turismo would look amazing on this”.
Shamefully for Polyphony and Sony, it’s taken several years for that dream to be realised. But finally, Sony’s premier driving simulation has shown its face on the handheld format and for the most part, it’s a joy to behold.
If I had to describe Gran Turismo on the PSP in a short sentence then I’d say it has the styling and feel of the original GT combined with the good looks of GT4. But it’s not all beer and skittles for GTPSP (as I’m going to refer to it as from here on in), there are problems, which I shall address later.
The hat-tip to the original GT begins with the remarkably similar cover art and doesn’t stop there. When I first started flicking through the menus a chill went down my spine as the original GT menu sounds brought back memories of countless hours and countless laps of PSX racing 12 years ago.
One of my biggest gripes with the GT series is also one of the major appeals for many racing fans - the License Tests. I hated having to reach a certain skill level before I could progress and I’m personally pleased to see that License Tests are non-existent in GTPSP. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to do a whole heap of driving to load up on the goodies, it’s just presented in a way that makes it a lot less stressful.
The lack of a structured single player mode means that there are just three choices from the single player menu – Mode Selection (Time Trial, Single Race and Drift Trial), Car Selection and Track Selection. You will earn credits from racing based on your performance, the difficulty and number of laps. These can then be used to purchase better cars, which is something you’ll want to do in a hurry. Initially you’re forced to pick from a selection of snails-pace vehicles which are nothing short of painful to drive. The speedo maxes out at about 120kph but it feels like you’re doing no more than 50. In about an hour, you’ll be driving something a bit more substantial, even though it might be the longest hour of your life.
Thankfully credits come easily and you’ll quickly catch the car collecting bug and with around 800 cars to choose from, all faithfully recreated in looks and handling, you’re spoilt for choice. It’s a figure that blew me away to be perfectly honest. I was expecting maybe 200 vehicles on the UMD but 800 is an amazing feat.
Add to that 45 tracks, including variations, plus the ability to drive most of them in reverse and you have a comprehensive GT release that can hold its head high amongst its bigger console brothers.
Vehicle handling works surprisingly well with the PSP analogue stick, but with the high-speed cars I found that the D-Pad had better response times, especially on the more complicated tracks. However the analogue comes into its own in the drift races where twitchy movement isn’t as important as feathering the throttle. However neither method seems to help on the dirt and ice tracks, which are far too slippery. Even though they’re few and far between, the game would have been better off without them.
If the single player mode becomes a little tedious, there is an excellent Challenge mode to make things more interesting. Here you are presented with more than 50 challenges (similar to the License Tests of old) where you can earn Bronze, Silver or Gold medals and a whole heap of credits to spend, which alone makes completing them worthwhile.
Car modding and upgrading is also absent from GTPSP, which has never really appealed to me anyway, but you can still tweak your car’s handling in a number of pre-race options such as traction control, tyre type, stability control etc. You can also choose the level of Simulation (Standard or Professional). But you’ll want to be very confident in your ability to choose Professional, as the cars tend to spin off at the drop of a hat.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in GTPSP is the complete lack of online features and support. Multiplayer is reduced to up to 4 players local ad-hoc only. There isn’t even online leaderboards to upload your best lap times or ghosts to, which is obviously a deliberate decision, but a criminal shame nonetheless. That said, I’ve experienced many wireless latency problems with other PSP racers that would no doubt ruin the whole GT experience. So maybe the developers had this in mind when the decision was made to cut online multiplayer from the game altogether.
Graphically, GTPSP is easily the best looking racer on the handheld, running at around 60fps. There is some visible stitching in places but nothing that suggests shoddy workmanship. The game obviously pushes the PSP to its processing limits and for that we should allow for the occasional glitch.
As for the sound, there’s a quality tracklist as per usual, although the music is usually the first thing I turn off in driving sims as I like to hear every squeal of the tyres. But if you like your sounds playing while you drive then there is also MP3 support, so you can make your own playlist.
Ultimately, this is Gran Turismo, and the PSP version is a legit release that’s a must have for PSP owning petrol-heads. There’s a ton of cars to collect and a whole lot of track to race them on. Sure, the lack of online support is disappointing, but if you call yourself a Gran Turismo fan then GT5 will no doubt satiate all your online multiplayer urges.